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French Ambassador: Religion Not Cause of Riots


The French ambassador to the United States says the violence that began last month in the suburbs surrounding Paris was not caused by religious friction. In remarks Monday in Washington, Ambassador Jean-David Levitte discussed the riots as well as the challenges of integrating Muslim immigrants into the French society.

Ambassador Levitte says last month's unrest was triggered by the accidental electrocution of two Muslim teenagers who fled into a power substation to avoid police. Mr. Levitte says anger over their deaths then spread from one neighborhood to another.

Though the vast majority of the rioters were Muslims, Mr. Levitte believes the violence was not motivated by religion.

"It was not about the role of Islam influence," said Mr. Levitte. "It has nothing to do with the clash of religions or civilizations or cultures. I think it's very important to understand that. You may say, but are you so sure? Yes, I am. Religion played no role at all during these two weeks."

Mr. Levitte says the government has no information that the violence was organized by religious leaders. The ambassador acknowledges that in France there are mosques and houses where militant Islamic groups are recruiting teenagers, but says there is no evidence that any radical Islamic group had a role in the recent violence.

"Absolutely no link with al-Qaida, absolutely no link with events with Iraq, in Afghanistan, in the Middle East process," added Mr. Levitte.

The ambassador says the teenagers involved in the recent clash are from impoverished neighborhoods, where most of France's Muslims live separate from the rest of the society. He says many of these teenagers come from single-parent homes and are angry at what they consider racial and religious prejudice in the surrounding society.

"These teenagers feel alienated and discriminated both socially and economically. They don't want to affirm any difference, but they want to be considered as 100 percent French," he noted. "They are not fighting to be recognized as a minority, either ethnic or religious, but on the contrary, they want to be accepted as full citizens of the French republic. They want to be part of the French dream."

Mr. Levitte says the government plans to spend $42 billion to improve educational opportunities for immigrants and build new, more welcoming housing developments.

Efforts also are under way to create more jobs to make Muslim immigrants a part of the social fabric of France.

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